Guest Commentary: Patience of Trainer Romans Paid Off for Keen Ice in Travers

Guest Commentary: Patience of Trainer Romans Paid Off for Keen Ice in Travers
NOTE–This article originally appeared on and was written by that publication’s editor John Pricci.

By John Pricci
Saratoga Springs, NY, August 30—The second lesson a trainer takes from his Horsemanship 101 manual, after “he couldn’t be doing any better” is “they all get beat.”

Horseplayers and fans would also do well to keep in mind that dictum. The disgrace is in not showing up; not running on gallantly for second in a losing effort.

They all get beat is the truest of all axioms, of course. That’s the way it is with flesh-and-blood things. Like humans, animals have their good days and bad days. American Pharoah had a good one on Saturday, just not the great one he needed.

For the Triple Crown champion of 2015, the 146th Travers was an effort somewhere in between. Bob Baffert said it best to a national television audience moments after the race: “He didn’t bring his ‘A’ game. We thought he would have a little more in the tank.”

Now maybe people understand why Baffert was reticent to run in this spot.

Pharoah’s B+ game was pretty damn good, however, in part reminiscent of Seattle Slew in the Jockey Club Gold Cup of 1978, coming again gallantly only to be beaten by a one-run, perfect trip rival, Exceller.

American Pharoah dug down to the bottom and found courage, but no reserves. While clearly fatigued, he still resurged to defeat his Travers shadow, the couldn’t-be-doing-any-better Frosted, soundly defeating him by open lengths at the end.

Good Karma
But it was the fresh horse, specifically pointed to the Midsummer Mile and a Quarter who won the day beneath expert handling from his human connections. And the good karma surrounding them proved too hard for the champ to overcome.

Jerry Crawford, founder and managing partner of the eminently successful Donegal Racing partnership, believed in his horse and the game’s future–the children, distributing free Dairy Haus ice cream—Keen Ice Cream cones—to celebrate his colt’s participation in the Travers.

“I have a suspicion that promotion may be extended a few days,” he would say several hours after the Travers.

At a charity event Travers eve at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion for Senior Services of Albany, trainer Dale Romans auctioned off his own paddock pass—“what are they going to do, prevent me from saddling the horse?” and it was the event topper, attracting a bid of $5,000.

“It’s one of my favorite charities,” Romans said afterward. “Meals on Wheels really improved the quality of my grandfather’s life, giving him a hand while allowing him to enjoy his independence late in his life.”

It is rare when good karma is rewarded almost instantly, and it was from the moment the Travers field was sent on its way. And before the term rabbit gets thrown around re Frosted’s tactics too loosely, Kiaran McLaughlin’s horse was under a tighter hold first time by the stands than was American Pharoah.

Jose Lezcano–who replaced Joel Rosario, unseated earlier in the G1 Forego, did not sustain serious injury–did nothing wrong.

Lezcano’s horse was super-sharp and rather than choke him down, he brought the race to the rival the whole world believed was the horse to beat.

And so the table was set for the Graveyard to claim its latest victim, thanks to a hotly contested pace and the coming of age of Keen Ice, who developed beautifully over the summer for Romans.

Fractions can be deceiving going 10 furlongs. Going the distance on a contested lead is always difficult, especially with a middle half-mile in 46 seconds, but Keen Ice was set for a breakthrough performance, a resume that only figures to get better with each subsequent start.

We have said, and have written previously, that Keen Ice showed signs of becoming a man in Oceanport when he sprinted home for place behind a geared-down Triple Crown champion in the Haskell at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2.

keen Ice continued to train in improved fashion during his time at Saratoga and Javier Castellano, winning an unprecedented fifth Travers, liked what he felt beneath him the only time he worked him.

While McLaughlin hoped Frosted would be in fifth position in the early going, his colt was super sharp and Lezcano brought the race to American Pharoah, to the detriment of both as it turned out.

Conversely, the connections of Keen Ice wanted their horse in the game earlier, and that’s exactly the trip Castellano gave them.

While the long-striding colt was well back early, he did ask Keen Ice to get closer when the real running began at the far turn following that grueling middle half-mile.

The Patient Approach
But, too, it was Romans’ patient approach with classics-type runners that ultimately paid dividends for the Donegal group and their colt going forward. He will continue to improve and, with added development, should make an excellent 4-year-old.

Keen Ice began 2015 with a fifth place  finish in  the Holy Bull (Grade 2)on Jan. 24 in his only race at Gulfstream  Park.

The current plan is to train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 31. That also will be the case with American Pharoah, who was fine, albeit tired, on Sunday morning.

Parenthetically, that makes sense for Pharoah but perhaps not so much for Keen Ice, who has both the constitution and the body to benefit from another Haskell-style prep.

But, too, it was Romans’ patient approach with classics-type runners that ultimately paid dividends for the Donegal group and their colt going forward. He will continue to improve and, with added development, should make an excellent 4-year-old.

Patience was a lesson Romans learned from one of his mentors, the late, great Allen Jerkens. They had been friends for decades and they spent a lot of time over dinners this winter in Florida, just before “the Chief” passed.

“After today’s race I kept waiting for him to call me,” said Romans wistfully back at the barn Saturday night where Keen Ice finished his dinner by about 8 p.m. When he later posed for photos with the Romans family, he appeared bright and fresh, almost as if he had never run.

Whatever tack Romans takes it will be well considered and, like late Saturday afternoon, the original Giant Killer will be somewhere, smiling.

The Hall of Fame trainer Jerkens died on March 18, 2015 at the age of 85. He was known as “The Giant Killer” because he trained numerous horses that upset heavy favorites in major stakes races.

Most notably, in 1973 he trained Onion who beat Secretariat in the 1 1/8 mile Whitney at Saratoga. That was Secretariat’s first race after he won the Triple Crown. Later that year, the Jerkens-trained Prove Out beat Secretariat in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

Those were Secretariat’s only losses in the six races he ran after the Triple Crown.

Note — above photo of Travers from

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